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Buzzcocks

+ {Flag Of Convenience} + {Pete Shelley} + {Shelley-Devoto}

One of the prime movers of the Brit-punk movement, the BUZZCOCKS were formed in April ‘76, not in London, but in the more northerly climes of Manchester; their unique moniker was procured from a quotation (“get a buzz, cock”) in a review of TV rockumentary, Rock Follies. The stamping ground for one Howard Devoto, before he moved on to MAGAZINE, did the band really need the singer, when the likes of guitarists Pete Shelley (and at times, Steve Diggle) were more than adequate to compensate the early loss.
“Another Music In A Different Kitchen” (their early recordings were made at the dining table before they named this LP), the 4-piece BUZZCOCKS initially applied the same 1-2-3-4 principles of punk as American cousins, the RAMONES, but there was a certain je ne sais quai about these Mancunian malcontents that was as British as Lancashire pud. From their cocky and classic debut “Spiral Scratch” EP – featuring Devoto on the four-strong `Breakdown’, `Time’s Up’, `Boredom’ and `Friends Of Mine’ – to Shelley’s effete but effective vox on a raft of teenage-angst hit singles, topped by `Ever Fallen In Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve)?’, the BUZZCOCKS had the new wave world at the feet. Pity then the 80s fizzled out without much fuss (or fuzz), although they’re still going strong on the toilet circuit – `Oh Shit’, et al!
Back in their formative years, Devoto and Shelley met at Bolton’s Institute of Higher Education, and having recruited Diggle (then bassist) and drummer John Maher, they played their first “real” gig on the 20th of July ‘76 at the 100 Club, sharing the bill with The SEX PISTOLS, The CLASH, The DAMNED and SIOUXSIE AND THE BANSHEES – wow. Early the following year, the BUZZCOCKS released the first self-financed DIY/indie-punk single (on New Hormones Records) in the form of the aforementioned “Spiral Scratch”. Endorsed by legendary Radio One DJ, John Peel, the platter sold out its original batch, and ironically hit the outskirts of the Top 30 in August 1979 as the mk.II band were about to fade from glory.
A major bust up occurred after the lads supported The CLASH on their “White Riot” tour, frontman Devoto’s untimely and shock departure might well’ve spelt the end for the BUZZCOCKS, but for the dogged determination of the remaining members. The group signed to United Artists Records on the strength of appearing (with tracks `Breakdown’ and `Love Battery’) on the now famous “Live At The Roxy” various artists compilation. By this time, lead guitarist Shelley had taken over vocal duties, while Diggle switched to rhythm guitar; they’d also found a new bassist in Steve Garvey, who’d superseded short-stop, Garth Smith.
The latter’s only participation was on the controversial classic, `Orgasm Addict’, a 2-minute song about masturbation, too frenetic to allow Pete’s effeminate romance ’n’ roll styling a look-in, although he blossomed and er… came into his own on subsequent releases. Early in ‘78, the ‘Cocks stormed the Top 40 with the bittersweet lovelorn gem, `What Do I Get?’, a 3-minute adrenaline rush of power-pop/punk angst.
On the showing of these classy 45s and their accompanying B-sides, `Oh Shit’ and `Whatever Happened To…?’ (also not included on the debut LP), ANOTHER MUSIC IN A DIFFERENT KITCHEN (1978) {*9}, stormed into the Top 20. Played at breakneck speed and chaotic in places (think Krautrock performed by The STOOGES), the album showcased a couple of Devoto-co-penned leftovers in `Fast Cars’, `Love Battery’ and `You Tear Me Up’, while other standouts came through `No Reply’, `Get On Our Own’, `Sixteen’ and the minor hit, `I Don’t Mind’ (plus its flipside `Autonomy’). The record’s pieste de resistance was saved for its final 7-minutes, the technically-tight and truly mesmerising, `Moving Away From The Pulsebeat’.
BUZZCOCKS fans were again treated to a non-LP hit 45 in the rather record-breakingly short, `Love You More’ (backed the angular `Noise Annoys’), but it was the airing and near Top 10 breakthrough of sophomore album taster, `Ever Fallen In Love (With Someone You Should’t’ve)?’, that gave them the deserved recognition – at least in Britain. The FINE YOUNG CANNIBALS would later take their re-vamp further into the higher echelons of the charts. With fervent support as always from John Peel, the band had squarely cornered the more accessible end of the punk market, although their second Martin Rushent-produced Top 20 album, LOVE BITES (1978) {*7}, marked a move away from the short, sharp melodic shock which had become their trademark as songwriting duties were more democratically distributed. Diggle’s `Love Is Lies’ and Garvey’s spiky `Walking Departure’ instrumental were two such departures, while Shelley displayed his usual pouting posture on `Real World’, `Operator’s Manual’, `Nothing Left’ and obligatory youth anthem, `Sixteen Again’.
A final cluster of Top 40 album-absentee hits, `Promises’, `Everybody’s Happy Nowadays’ and Diggle’s `Harmony In My Head’, saw the increasing influence of Pete’s lieutenant. A DIFFERENT KIND OF TENSION (1979) {*6} saw Shelley’s influence begin to dissipate and the album’s mixed reviews signalled the band were running out of creative steam. The failure to chart with LP spawns, `You Say You Don’t Love Me’ and `I Believe’, failed to grab the attention of flagging punks now into the ska revival. BUZZCOCKS duly split; Diggle forming FLAG OF CONVENIENCE with Maher, while a long-lost PETE SHELLEY set, SKY YEN (1980) {*4} – recorded on an oscillator in ‘74 – was given light by the man and his Groovy Records label; his imprint was also behind the likes of SALLY TIMMS, ERIC RANDOM and BARRY ADAMSON.
Back on track and on a need to recede from an LSD addiction, SHELLEY, meanwhile, went solo, making his debut proper in 1981 with HOMOSAPIEN {*7}, an electro-pop album that saw him augmented by Garvey and drummer Jim Russell. Boosted by airplay, if not initial sales, from the set’s title track, Martin Rushent was again on hand to provide the necessary production sheen on the likes of beat-friendly `Yesterday’s Not Here’, `I Generate A Feeling’ and `I Don’t Know What It Is’. Although the album made little commercial headway in Britain, the aforementioned title track, bizarrely enough, topped the Australian charts.
Pete released another two sets, the Top 50 breaker XL-1 (1983) {*5} – featuring minor hit, `Telephone Operator’ plus `If You Ask Me (I Won’t Say No)’ – and HEAVEN & THE SEA (1986) {*5} to mild interest outside promoters from his Island, and then Mercury bosses. During this frustrating time for both breakaway factions, Diggle and his aforementioned F.O.C. unit only managed the odd single/EP release, plus a belated full-set, NORTHWEST SKYLINE (1987) {*4}. Taking up the billing of BUZZCOCKS F.O.C., Diggle, bassist Gary Hamer, drummer Chris Goodwin and guitarist Andy Couzens, completed their 1989 curtain call EP, `Tomorrow’s Sunset’; Couzens and Goodwin almost immediately formed The HIGH.
Far more newsworthy was the BUZZCOCKS re-formation at the turn of the decade with a line-up of Shelley, Diggle, Garvey and temporary ex-SMITHS drummer Mike Joyce. Arriving after a single, `Alive Tonight’ (with Tony Barber and Phil Barker replacing Garvey and the returning Maher), comeback album TRADE TEST TRANSMISSIONS (1993) {*6} was lapped up by old punks and new converts alike, while a slightly modified line-up undertook a heartily received tour. A live set culled from the Paris dates, FRENCH {*5} was released in 1995, while a follow-up Neill King-produced album, ALL SET (1996) {*6}, recalled days of old, with a few punk pastiches thrown in for good measure.
While 1999’s MODERN {*5} was a slightly turgid affair and never really troubled that legacy, it far outflanked the amateurish flailings of the young – largely American – bands who’d supposedly carry their flame; GREEN DAY, The OFFSPRING, et al. Much more satisfying was 2003’s BUZZCOCKS {*7}, the eponymous title perhaps serving notice that the re-formed band, were, at the end of the day, the guardians of that classic buzz-saw sound and the only ones with the ability to carry it forward. That said, the record wasn’t exactly a transformation although it did carry the weight that might be expected from these veterans. The resumption of the SHELLEY-DEVOTO writing partnership on two tracks (having already worked together on experimental electronica set, BUZZKUNST (2002) {*5}, made things even more interesting.
Celebrating an on/off thirty year musical relationship, the BUZZCOCKS returned in 2006 with FLAT-PACK PHILOSOPHY {*6}, another dose of compelling AOP (Adult Orientated Punk) concerned with the trials of responsibility rather than rebellion. `Reconciliation’, `Sell You Everything’, `God, What Gave I Done’ and Diggle’s `Between Heaven And Hell’, drew inspiration from their halcyon days of yore, and it was touching to see the pair of 50-somethings still combining forces with the relatively younger Barber and Barker. Their subsequent 28-song concert set, 30 (2008) {*6} – marking their anniversary – caught the BUZZCOCKS in full flight taking on a unrelenting barrage of their power-pop best-ofs.
Plodding on regardless with a punk ethos similar to The STRANGLERS or The DAMNED, the beaten ’n’ bruised BUZZCOCKS (Shelley and Diggle adding the rhythm of Chris Remington and Danny Farrant) recharged their Duracels with yet another stab at power-pop by way of THE WAY (2014) {*6}. In classic, passion punk mode, glimpses of the glory days came through best bits, `It’s Not You’ (very `What Do I Get’), `Keep On Believing’, `Virtually Real’ and the grimy `Saving Yourself’.
Sadly, on 6th December 2018, the remarkable Pete Shelley had a fatal heart attack; he was 63.
© MC Strong 1994-2006/GRD-MCS // rev-up MCS Dec2012-Dec2018

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